Your Marriage License, Your Death Certificate

Dying to Singlehood and Dying to Myself

Part of 7 of in
By Heidi Kwon
Illustrations by Alice Young
Jan 01, 2016 | min read
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WE HAD BEEN MESSAGING back and forth for a week before Daniel repurposes a popular and cheesy song lyric to ask if I would be interested in grabbing coffee. Friday night rolls around, and he is a bona fide gentleman: He opens doors for me, walks me home, leaves without a hug, and speeds off to pray with his brothers. I am, as any single, 20-something Christian woman would be, absolutely smitten.

Daniel is unlike any man I've met before. He pursues Jesus, is gentle and goofy, incredibly handsome, and joins in on my "Nacho Libre" references. We speak the same language. After he drops me off, I gather my thoughts and dissect each moment we spent together. I hold my chest close because it's swelling up to the ceiling.

But along with the racing thoughts and fluttering in my stomach, I also unexpectedly feel this deeply-rooted melancholy — I know in my gut that this is it. I just turned 21, and I've met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. My singlehood is over.

I know in my gut that this is it. I just turned 21, and I’ve met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. My singlehood is over.

Two years later on a warm September afternoon, Daniel and I meet in front of a makeshift altar. I laugh at the little inside jokes he's braided into his vows that hold promises for our lives. I believe him as he recites his mouthful of "always" and "forevermores". And while the 
man across from me is not as "perfect" as I thought he was on our first date —  he is better. He is real.

As I begin to recite my vows, the words roll softly off my tongue: "I promise to die to myself, so that Christ may be alive in us." Admittedly, I am blissfully unaware of the gravity that this promise holds.

When I profess this to God and over our marriage, I don't know exactly what this entails. I don't know what it's like to love someone in the trenches amid tension for the rest of my life. I don't understand what it means to love while fighting the incessant urge to retreat into self-preservation.

We peer over an edge into new firsts, we exchange rings, and we jump.

We peer over an edge into new firsts, we exchange rings, and we jump.

A pastor at my church once jokingly said, "Why are people so eager to get married? Don't they know that marriage — though glorious and beautiful — is like crucifixion? That altar is your tombstone!"

At first, this "death" didn't seem daunting. During our dating and engagement phase, loving the other was easy. At the end of the day, you go home to your respective beds, dream your own dreams, have your own bank accounts, and spend your own time. It's easy to die to yourself when you have your own solace to return to. In that season, death meant making him lunch sometimes, leaving him notes, learning to trust him, and giving him space to hang out with friends.

Death of self was a "cute", abstract, and even a sweeping romantic concept. But as I experience it more and more in covenant, it has become much more arduous and pragmatic than I previously anticipated.

death by submission

If you watch our wedding video, you actually see me stumble over the word "submit". I think for many women, the word submission is a natural repellent. The idea of submitting to a man — albeit one I love —  is contrary to everything in my flesh. It suggests weakness, vulnerability, and inadequacy. Dying to myself seams easier to swallow than submitting to someone else.

As a feminist, I cringe when I read verses like Ephesians 5:22-23 about submitting to the headship of my husband. But in marriage, I start to realize how God provided the framework of submission to be an act of love, not a display of power.

In Christ, mutual submission allows my husband and me to function as a team, inspired to submit to one another. It means that I trust Daniel in the way he leads our marriage and know that all the while he submits under the leadership of God. There is no power play, only a constant bowing to the other.

There is no power play, only a constant bowing to the other. 

This can be as practical as holding my tongue or submitting to his financial Excel sheet by not buying that Madewell top online. It can be as simple as him making meals for the week or taking out the trash. It can be as weighty as moving across the country to support the other's dreams.

I am learning to joyfully submit to my husband  —  not because he is God or infallible 
—  but because I trust that God's Word is good and true. I submit, because I love him and because the life of our marriage is more important than being "right".

In the words of Henry Miller, "True strength lies in submission which permits one to dedicate his life, through devotion, to something beyond himself."

“True strength lies in submission which permits one to dedicate his life, through devotion, to something beyond himself.”

Submission requires a death of my single ways for the sake of our way. Though I grieved over the loss of a personal space I could call my own and buried any notion of what was "mine", this made space to begin cultivating what is "ours".

a patchy reflection of christ

"Husbands, love your wives. You must love them as Christ loved the church. He gave His life for it" (Eph. 5:25 NLV).

Tim Keller brings this down to earth beautifully in "The Meaning of Marriage":

"We must say to ourselves something like this: 'Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, He didn't think, 'I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.' No, He was in agony, and He looked down at us  —  denying Him, abandoning Him, and betraying Him  —  and in the greatest act of love in history, He stayed ... He loved us, not because we were lovely to Him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.' Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day."

"He loved us, not because we were lovely to Him, but to make us lovely."

A few months into our marriage, we got into one of our very first fights. Without a word, I left home, turned off my phone, and spent hours walking around the shores in La Jolla, California. Late that night, my heart finally settled, and I returned home, embarrassed and deflated. I felt like I had been overdramatic, too emotional, even too broken. I didn't deserve Daniel's love and he had no reason to accept me. Like a child dragging their feet back home after running away, I was afraid of the disappointment to come.

Opening the door slowly, I walked in with my head down to avoid my husband's gaze. But instead of retaliating with silent treatment, or even yelling about how dangerous it was, or how foolish I had been, he met me with a tender, warm embrace. "I just wanted you to come home," he said. His kindness reminded me of Christ and I immediately broke down.

Your Marriage License, Your Death Certificate

The truth is, I am not as lovable as I was when we first met, nor am I the same person I was a year ago. In marriage I see a jarring reflection of myself — I am much more selfish than I ever imagined; I am not as patient, gentle, or gracious. Marriage burns away my walls and exposes the flesh under my armor.

But knowing that Christ empowers us to love one another, we are able to be fully ourselves without the fear of abandonment. Daniel does not stop loving me just because I am a basket case. I do not stop loving him when he fails to meet my human expectations. We love one another through it all .

I do not stop loving him when he fails to meet my human expectations. We love one another through it all.

My husband just began a decade-long, debt-ridden endeavor known to society as medical school. A last-minute acceptance altered our future within moments. In less than a month, we quit our jobs, packed our place into a tiny trailer, said tear-stained goodbyes to our beloved friends, church, and family, and drove across the country to Erie, Pennsylvania: the premier destination of the past years' polar vortex, or Siberia to all native Californians.

In this season, as Daniel dives face first into books, tests, and stress as a medical student, I am the primary breadwinner, the homemaker, the chef, and the dog-walker. There are days I'm crushed in spirit that my potential is squandered and my dreams have dissipated. I begin to pressure Daniel, because we came here for him. He has no room to fail.

This is when I must return to the vows I promised to him and to God: to cover and support him in the good days and bad, the exciting and mundane. I promised that our marriage would be for God's glory, so that one day He may use us as a safe home for others. Marriage was never meant to be about myself. At that altar, I vowed my death.

Marriage was never meant to be about myself. At that altar, I vowed my death.

In the same vein, I am comforted by the vows he made to honor and treasure me, and to always die to himself for the sake of us and our marriage. His eyebrows furrowed with sincerity as he promised, "I will work hard with my hands to build a life where you can flourish and a foundation on which you will feel safe, at rest, and at home."

This is the glory of covenant: as we embrace the death of ourselves, we become more akin to the life that springs forth. Our respective deaths restore us to a creation made to love. Death in marriage strips us of our blindness, our navel-gazing tendencies, and allows us to return to the promises we made to one another that warm September afternoon.

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Heidi Dixon Kwon

Heidi Dixon Kwon lives in Erie, PA with her hunky husband and feisty Beagle. As a hobby — and for sanity — she writes about her processes in her blog, inkandalabaster.blogspot.com, and aspires to be a signpost for others to seek identity in Christ. Heidi loves sweet coffee, tans easily, is a morning person and can eat her weight in olives. 

Alice Young

Alice Young studied illustration at Art Center College of Design and philosophy of religion at Talbot Theological Seminary. She is an illustrator based in Los Angeles. Learn more about her work at alicesyoung.com.

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